We headed to Jaisalmer with only one thing on our minds: A night of sleeping under the stars on a sand dune after a long Camel ride.
The bus rolled into town around 6am, and we were told that we got a ‘free’ lift to our accommodation. We didn’t believe it so started walking, but then the driver of the bus insisted this was correct and that we should take the offer. So we did… to a different hotel than ours.
The hotel owners said that they were wanting to show us their rooms and details on the camel tour they ran, so on the promise of free chai we headed upstairs, weary and a little annoyed to listen to what they had to sell. The owner showed us review of his camel ride and really tried to sell it. It actually sounded really good, but I was miffed at being tricked into doing business with him, so we declined and said we wanted to check with our accomodation first. Suddenly the chai wasn’t free and no lift to our hostel available, so we walked away and any chance of business for that man completely disappeared.
Arriving at our hostel we were greeted by a friendly young owner and shown to a clean, comfortable dorm room. We met a young American couple and got along quickly, and they talked to us about the camel ride offered by the hostel. It sounded good though no reviews were available unlike at the other hotel, so we were taking a little bit of a risk. However we felt it was a good option as at least we would be going with two people we clicked with so we signed on and that afternoon we all headed out for our ‘Safari’.
Be warned, the ride there is strange. The driver will stop at random villages on the way and tell you go get out and look around. Essentially you are walking through peoples backyards and peering in at their lifestyle, which makes you feel rather uneasy as you seem to be seeing them as an exhibit rather than people. After the first stop we all agreed we didn’t want to do anymore, so we asked the driver to just drive directly to the camels and thankfully he did. These stops are apparently something nearly all tour operators include so ask about these before you go.
We got the the camels and two men dressed in traditional desert attire helped us onto our camels. No one seemed to speak a lot of English, so everything was done through gesture. It worried us a little, as the other hotels review had talked about how the guides sang songs, talked about their life and customs and sat up with you telling storied and having a few drinks around a campfire. It seemed this may not happen on ours.
The camel ride started, and while we all talked to joked, getting the guides involved was hard work. After about two hours of riding we stopped for what we thought was just a short break. Then we saw our guides starting to unpack the camels and make a fire and we realised that we were riding no further. They soon brought us some Chai and water, so we sat and chatted while they started dinner preparations. I went over and tried to indicate I wanted to help or watch, but that seemed to make them feel uncomfortable so I dropped it and the four of us decided to go explore the dunes instead.
Rolling around in the dunes and watching the sunset done, we headed back to camp to find that dinner was almost ready. As the sky darkened we sat down to a dinner of rice and a cabbage based dish. It had little flavour, but thankfully there was a pretty good chilly sauce handy to give it some life. As soon as we had eaten, the campfire was put out, so we figured that our chances of stories and sing-a-longs were slim to none. We sat and chatted for a few hours, then all of us decided to take our bedding and go and find ourselves a spot to sleep. It was only 8pm, so Stu and I chatted for a while longer before we finally drifted off.
The sleep on the dunes was suprisingly the most comfortable, quite sleep we had had so far in our whole trip. We slept without even drifting awake even once and woke feeling cosy and comfortable on the soft sand. As we heard others start to move around us we headed from our little sleep spot back to camp for a breakfast of boiled eggs, bread and bananas, before getting back on the camels for the two hour walk back to the awaiting car.
Overall, the trip was good, but we felt a little down about the lack of interaction we were able to have with our guides. I have since read reviews on many other companies and most of them have guides who speak some English and regularly engage, so check around town with different tour providers to find the one that suits you. Our probably would have been perfect if we were looking for romance or solitude, but it didn’t hit our mark of wanting to learn more about the culture. Choose wisely.
Trip over, we went to the hostel to shower and decided to stay another night so that we could explore the town that day/night before taking the lunchtime bus.
We spent the day looking through markets, having a late lunch/early dinner at Pleasant Haveli (great food, excellent service) and then sitting up with our hostel owner and having some very earnest conversations about customs and expectations for young men and women in India. Talking to our hostel owner, who was from the desert, was fascinating as it gave us an insight into how education and working with people of different beliefs has shaken his faith in the way things ‘just are’. He was already promised to a girl for marriage and was not looking forward to it and talked to us about how some of the customs in the desert are, in his opinion, 100 years behind the rest of the world. His enthusiasm for change and want to listen, critique and reflect gave me even more hope that India is moving forward for its young people.